Book Reviews: The Lacuna and Let the Great World Spin

Thursday, May 20, 2010

The Lacuna
by Barbara Kingsolver

Harrison Shepherd, half-Mexican and half-American, is raised in Mexico with his mother, later he returns to the USA to attend an American school. His divorced parents have left him feeling like he has no real home. He's an eternal outsider. He finally finds a home of sorts working in the kitchen of the famous married artists Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. The story is told through letters and Harrison's diary entries throughout his life.

The book feels like an entire series piled into one book. It's split into many parts, but they are so different it almost feels like reading multiple books. It has an epic feel, spanning multiple decades and cultures. It started slow, but it picked up speed as you became invested in the story. I loved learning more about Mexico's history and Lev Trotsky, but I didn't always love the fictional characters. I was annoyed by Harrison's mother and disliked the sections with her, but I was fascinated by Harrison's interactions with his artist employers. Frida's voice was by far my favorite part; her fiery nature spill passion and life into whomever she touches. I also loved hearing about Harrison's love of literature and his friendship with his stenographer Violet Brown.

Overall I'm glad I read it. I've never been a huge fan of most of Kingsolver's work, but I loved The Poisonwood Bible. My thoughts on this book fall somewhere in between my past experiences with her. I liked the book and enjoyed reading it, but I wouldn't read it again and it doesn't make me long for more from the author.

Pair it with a movie: Frida

Let the Great World Spin
by Colum McCann

In 1974 Philippe Petit walked on a wire between the World Train Centers in New York City. McCann's novel revolves around various New Yorkers' response to this real event.

Corrigan, an Irish monk, Tillie and Jazzlyn, prostitutes, Claire, a Park Avenue woman who lost her son in the Vietnam war, Lara, an artist and drug addict; each of these individuals has a unique story. McCann's lyrical descriptions of each character pull you in. Their disconnected lives don't seem so different as her weaves them together. He finds a way to cut to the core of the human condition and highlight the threads that connect us all.

Tillie's sassy but tragic voice and Solomon's stoic pain were too of the stories that hit me on the deepest level. Polar opposites, one is a black prostitute who ends up in jail and the other is a white judge who has lost his son in the Vietnam War, but their universal pain unites them. Though their paths cross only for a moment, there's a deeper recognition of despair that they silently share.

This is one that I know I'll read again. The next time I pick it up I'll have met the characters before and so their stories will resonate on a different level. I'm still mulling over each of their stories and considering their connections and I know I'll be thinking about them for a long time.

Pair it with a movie: Man on Wire


Lilly said...

Psychologist Eda LaShan said middle age begins the moment you
realize you won't live long enough to read all the books you want to
-- Barbara Winter, on Vibrant Nation web site

Hannah Stoneham said...

I am really attracted by The Lacuna - not so much for the author as for the background subjects. Well over a year ago now there was a lovely exhibition of Vanity Fair portraits at the National Portrait Gallery in London which I dragged my old flatmate to - as you can imagine there were loads and loads of famous faces - but the ones that have stuck in my mind are Frida and Diego - even though I had never heard of them until I attended the exhibition... so I have always had a bit of a wish to learn more. thanks indeed for highlighting this book for me and for sharing an interesting review.


Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Hannah- than you'll love the parts with Frida and Diego. Those were my favorite parts of the book. I think their relationship was fascinating!

Jeanne said...

I've already read the Frida and Diego part, which did pick up a little, but I've had The Lacuna halfway read for a few months now because it puts me to sleep.

Melissa (Avid Reader) said...

Jeanne - It's definitely a slow read. I think the Frida/Diego part is the most energetic. It doesn't get any faster as it goes.